Watch CBSN Live

Escaped Serial Rape Suspect Caught

The serial rape suspect accused of terrorizing two neighborhoods smiled as police officers escorted him back to jail Tuesday, a week after he escaped by climbing through a vent and rappelling down the building using sheets.

A tip led detectives to Reynaldo E. Rapalo, who was arrested about 10 p.m. Monday outside a video store in southwest Miami, said Amos Rojas Jr., Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent in charge.

He had shaved his mustache and told officers who had chased him down that "he was a homeless guy from Nicaragua, that he was worried about immigration," Detective Alcides Velez said. "He was trying to mislead us in that direction."

Rapalo, 34, escaped Dec. 20 as he awaited a February trial on felony counts of sexual battery and other charges that could have sent him to prison for life. He is accused of sexually assaulting seven women and girls, ranging from 11 to 79 years old, before his capture in 2003.

"He is a very dangerous individual and we are very glad to have him back in custody," Miami-Dade Police Director Robert Parker said.

While being led to a police car Tuesday morning, Rapalo smiled as he spoke to the officers who held his arms. He was taken to a different jail from the one he escaped from.

At a brief hearing later in the morning, Rapalo was denied bail on an escape charge. Appearing in court via closed-circuit camera from jail, he made no comment.

Rapalo, 34, broke out of jail Dec. 20 by rappelling down the building on bed sheets. He was awaiting a February trial on felony counts of sexual battery and other charges that could have sent him to prison for life. He is accused of sexually assaulting seven women and girls.

Rapalo, a Honduran native who had been living in Miami on an expired visa, was accused of terrorizing the city's Little Havana and Shenandoah neighborhoods in 2002 and 2003, including raping three young girls in the span of four weeks.

Parents walked their children home from school, sketches of the suspect were plastered across town, and a beauty salon owner kept her business door locked even during the day.

Miami police also stopped more than 120 men, most of them Hispanic, and asked them to volunteer DNA samples, a tactic that was denounced by civil rights activists. The DNA samples did not lead to his capture.

Rapalo was arrested September 2003 when officers noticed him driving suspiciously.

He and another inmate escaped from a Miami jail last week by climbing through a vent in the ceiling of a cell and onto a sixth-floor roof, police said. The vent was supposed to be locked, but it had been pried open, and bars blocking it were cut.

The other inmate, also a sexual assault suspect, broke his legs when he jumped and was captured outside the jail.

Police have said the tools used in the escape may have been smuggled in, and Rapalo apparently plotted the breakout for months.

Officers scoured neighborhoods, airports, train stations and ports for Rapalo, and guards were assigned to victims who still live in the area. Rapalo did not leave Miami-Dade County, and may have had accomplices who helped him elude police, Rojas said.

"We think someone gave him some clothes and he's been communicating with some people," Parker said. "We took some things off of him — he still had the blade that he used to escape."

After his escape, the director of the Miami-Dade Corrections Department ordered that all vents at the jail be welded shut.

Two corrections officers were placed on paid administrative leave. They were not accused of being involved in the escape, and they have not been disciplined.

The tipster who ultimately led authorities to Rapalo will get the $36,000 award offered for information leading to his arrest, police said. Just as the tipster described, detectives found Rapalo outside the video store wearing a fuzzy pink sweater layered under a black sweater, Rojas said.